Consumer Demand for Elephant Ivory Remains in Decline, Fifth Annual Survey in China Finds


Beijing, China – World Wildlife Fund (WWF), in cooperation with research organization GlobeScan, has conducted the largest elephant ivory consumer survey – 2,000 people in 15 cities – for five consecutive years. This annual survey is the largest assessment of changes in attitudes to ivory consumption, purchasing rates and intention to purchase, as well as awareness of the Chinese ivory ban over time. The study finds that demand for ivory continues at a low rate since the ivory ban, though with a slight uptick in 2021.

WWF’s fifth annual survey, Demand under the Ban – China Ivory Consumption Research 2021, finds:

Ivory buying remains in decline. Self-reported purchases of ivory in the past 12 months have increased from 2020 to 2021 (from 12% to 15%), but remain lower than 2019 levels (17%) and less than half of the 2017 pre-ban level (31%). A similar trend was observed in the intention to purchase ivory in the future, both before (22%) and after (11%) the ban was mentioned, which has increased slightly in 2021 but remains lower than any year except 2020.

  • Even the most committed ivory buyers report buying less. Among the identified buyer segments, the proportion of Diehard Buyers has grown slightly from 8% in 2020 to 11% in 2021. Their past-12-month purchases have decreased to the lowest level since 2017, with just 45% reporting that they bought ivory in the past 12 months, and those intending to buy in the future (before the ban was mentioned in the survey) continues to drop to 73% in 2021.
  • Public awareness of the legality of ivory trade remains the same. Same as last year, 88% of participants in 2021 believe that the trading of ivory in China is illegal, even though the spontaneous mention of the 2017 ivory ban has remained low, at 3%. The prompted recognition of the ivory ban has increased from 40% in 2020 to 44% in 2021.
  • Regular Overseas Travelers, one of the most determined ivory consumer segments, reached their lowest stated intention to buy ivory since 2017, both before and after the ban was mentioned. Although international travel was difficult in the past year, 27% of total participants intend to travel when it is possible again.

A rebound has been seen in ivory purchase as well as intention to purchase ivory in the future, but these metrics remain lower than 2019 levels, despite the easing of many COVID-19 restrictions in China over the past 12 months. The easing of these restrictions was expected to create an increase in ivory purchase and changes in ivory sales will need to be carefully monitored as the world reopens post-COVID. Within the country, Layer 1 cities have seen a significant increase in ivory purchase intention since 2020, and the people living in these cities conducted more international travels in the past. It is important to target this group with demand reduction messages when borders reopen.

The survey also assessed the effects of a targeted social media campaign, starring Chinese cultural celebrity Ma Weidu, launched in 2020; 4% more respondents claimed they had seen this campaign video than in the last survey, and 66% of respondents who planned to buy ivory said they changed their mind after learning about the laws and seeing the Ma Weidu campaign.

“These suggest that a combination of public awareness efforts and targeted behavior change campaigns has a measurable positive impact on ivory purchasing among even the most determined consumer group,” said Zhou Fei, Chief Program Officer of WWF China. “Partners across many sectors, including China Customs, internet companies and the travel industry, have committed to a Zero Tolerance to Illegal Wildlife Trade Initiative and therefore bolstered consumer engagement efforts.”

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